Once upon a time, phones were used to make phone calls. Today, of course, our phones are indispensable sources of information, instantly connecting us to everything online.

Because our phones already offer a world of information, plus cameras, countless apps, music, movies and more, Apple, Samsung and other phone-makers have struggled to develop unique features that excite consumers. As it turns out, a team of university researchers has beaten them to the punch, coming up with the best new phone feature in years.

Avoiding a DUI

According to their study, phones will soon be able to tell when you have had too much to drink and then send you an alert to stop you from driving drunk and being arrested for DUI.

The study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs says phones’ accelerometer sensors and its processor can be used to measure changes in the way you walk, instantly analyze the data and determine if you’re impaired.

Stiff drinks for science

The researchers assembled a group of 22 volunteers ranging in age from 21 to 43. In a lab setting, the participants were weighed and then given weight-based doses of a mixed vodka drink calculated to raise their BAC (blood alcohol content) to .20 percent. (Note: in Oklahoma, you can be arrested for DUI with a BAC of .08 percent.)

The volunteers were outfitted with phones strapped to their lower backs with elastic bands, and then asked to perform a simple test: walk 10 steps in a straight line, turn and walk back 10 steps. They performed the test hourly for seven hours, while the phones measured movements forward and backward, up and down, and side to side.

According to the study, the phones calculated with 90 percent accuracy when each participant had a BAC of at least .08 percent.

Looking into the future

The lead researcher says an upcoming study will address some of the limits of this one, including more participants and putting the phones in people’s hands or pockets. He said that within five years, people will be able to go out with friends and get alerts from their phones when measurements of their gait indicate that they’re intoxicated.

Those people will then avoid the expense of a DUI arrest and the potentially harsh penalties of a DUI conviction.